|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, way back on Second Reading I said that if we are to make this Bill effective, the key word is "harmony". I also said that there would have to be some give and take on all sides if we were to produce legislation that would be workable and acceptable to the general public. We
We must try to find some way of penalising those few people--there are relatively few of them, but they can be singularly difficult--who want to overstep the mark, ignore the law and create a great disturbance in the countryside when it is unnecessary. As we have said so many times, they are just the sort of people who will cause the damage that we are all trying to avoid--for example, by disturbing nesting birds, raptors and other birds in their peaceful existence on open moorland. In fact, we have no sanction at all; at present we merely have the 72-hour non-event. We should have a much stiffer sanction.
The question of balance is dramatically brought home to us today in those newspapers which mention the penalties that will be imposed under the hunting Bill to be introduced by the Government in the next Session. Draconian measures will be introduced: fines up to £5,000; police rights to stop and search and the confiscation of property. We have talked on previous occasions of confiscating vehicles and motor bikes. That, apparently, can be done under the terms of the hunting Bill, but not the one we are discussing. Everything can be thrown at the person hunting with hounds on his own land except imprisonment. The Government do not want to create martyrs. However, if someone persistently refuses to pay a fine, he could be charged with contempt of court.
One cannot possibly equate the measures proposed in a hunting Bill to be introduced next Session with the measures in the Bill we are discussing today. We must find a reasonable way to deal with those persistent offenders who will cause a great deal of trouble in the countryside. We all know the organisations they represent, which are not friendly to the countryside. A sanction must be available. Therefore, I believe that we should support the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Peel.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, I also speak in favour of the amendment. This is a remarkable Bill. When it was first published it was given a cautious welcome both by the country landowners and by the ramblers. That is a sign of how the whole spirit of the Bill works towards harmony and convergence.
I express our gratitude to the Government for having understood so many of the points that have been made from different sides of the House. I believe that what the noble and learned lord, Lord Bingham, called a very modest sanction is probably necessary here in order to avoid confrontation. If this measure were to be incorporated in the Bill, I believe that confrontation would be less likely to occur because people would know that a sanction of this nature existed. I believe that it would hardly ever have to be invoked. It would be a valuable safeguard in the background for that small number of people who might on rare occasions be extraordinarily obstinate
Lord Renton: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Peel mentioned quite rightly in moving this amendment that of course it was a modification of the law of trespass which does not give rise in itself to crime. But just in case the Government are thinking of relying upon standing by the civil nature of trespass, I think that they should bear in mind the dangers that could arise in the circumstances envisaged by this amendment.
Several of my noble friends have said that it would apply perhaps only to a few people. But it could apply to quite a large party of people who had got together hoping to exercise a right to roam but had not been given access. The damage that could be done is something that the Government should bear in mind. Several of my noble friends have mentioned damage to birds in the nesting season, but of course it would go much further than that. There is the potential damage to livestock. There is damage to sheep during the early season. Then in dry weather of course there is the potential damage to woods. This is a situation which must be covered. After all, the offence will not arise until, as the amendment says,
Lord Mancroft: My Lords, I also wish to support my noble friend Lord Peel. When Mr Michael Meacher has talked about the Bill over the past few weeks he has repeatedly said that he thinks we should search for balance. The right reverend Prelate has just mentioned balance. Throughout the Committee and Report stages noble Lords have repeatedly said that this is the one remaining area--perhaps there is one other--where there is not a balance at the moment. There are sanctions in one direction but not in another.
At the same time I have always understood the Government's point that they do not wish to make trespass a criminal offence because that would imply changing a principle we have held for many years. We must find a middle way. I rather think that my noble friend's amendment has found that middle way. It might be helpful to remember the manifesto commitment that the Labour Party gave before the 1997 election which states clearly:
As the Bill stands at present, the burden of tackling any abuse--like the right reverend Prelate, I do not think that a huge number of people will abuse the measure--rests solely on landowners, who will have to pursue persistent offenders through the civil courts. As
The wording of my noble friend's amendment is directed at persistent offenders. It mentions two warnings, the same piece of land, the same day. This persistent abuse will not occur often, but if it should occur, the landowner should have more strength to tackle it than he currently has. The only real objection that the Government had at the earlier stages of the Bill related to making trespass a criminal offence. There is no doubt that the amendment does not do that. The offence will break the regulations. Anyone who is on the land through the measures in the Bill cannot possibly be a trespasser. I hope that the Government will assist us on this last occasion to deal with this difficult issue and accept the amendment.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: My Lords, I speak to Amendment No. 17 which stands in my name. It might appear to have some similarities to Amendment No. 3 of the noble Earl, Lord Peel, but I believe that it is clearly different. The amendment is tightly drawn. It would introduce sanctions only if conservation damage of a serious nature were possible, where that possibility had been accepted by the nature conservation statutory bodies and the countryside body and where there had been full consultation on the matter.
Therefore, we are talking about a situation where extremely serious damage may occur. The amendment would also introduce a penalty only if the offence was clearly persistent and wilful and would demonstrably cause damage. The amendment seeks to prevent damage occurring rather than taking action after it has occurred because in some cases the damage may be irretrievable. It is different from a blanket provision which takes into account not only fairly minor infringements under Schedule 2 but also the whole range of possible infringements under Chapter II, many of which may be minor. The amendment focuses tightly on extremely serious nature conservation issues where prevention has to be better than cure because cure may not be possible.
Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I support both the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and that which has just been spoken to by my noble friend Lady Young. There is an imbalance in the Bill and there are some weaknesses. These two amendments seem to me to go to them.
I have been present during the majority of debates in this House and, due in no small part to the tact with which the Minister has conducted his part of the proceedings, they have been remarkably free from the polarisation that such a Bill might have been expected
We are now at Third Reading and there is an imbalance to which the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, referred. The Bill, quite rightly, includes provisions--landowners and occupiers could perhaps best be described as the access providers for this purpose--to penalise those who seek to frustrate access. The penalties are there. But at present the Bill does not penalise the access user who seeks to frustrate the lawful restrictions on that access.
The amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Peel, does not relate to the responsible walker or rambler. It relates only to the rogue, the person who deliberately and repeatedly breaks the rules. There is an understandable desire on the part of the Government not to wish to criminalise trespass. But such people are not trespassers. They are lawfully on the land but refuse to obey the lawful restrictions. It is perhaps unfortunate that there has not been more give and take on this issue in earlier stages of the Bill. However, I believe that the amendment properly strengthens the Bill and, to those who will have to make it work, presents the measure as even handed.
I support the noble Baroness's amendment for a different reason: it is different. It points out a weakness in the Bill. Those who would be subject to this penalisation are excluded for good reason but break the rules and trespass repeatedly in a way which is likely to cause damage. That damage may be difficult if not impossible to prove--or possibly only in the very long term. For example, where breeding birds are disturbed or flora damaged it may be months or years before the effect of that trespass is apparent. For that reason, injunction does not provide a suitable remedy because it will not be possible to produce proof to the relevant standard that damage has been done. Only when the last of that species has gone will it be fully appreciated.
I am usually the last person who wants to create yet more criminal offences. There are already too many. But parts of the Bill are likely to be rendered less effective without the sanctions proposed in the amendments. I support them.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page